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Understanding industrial safety signs: implications for occupational safety management

K.L. Chan (Department of Manufacturing Engineering and Engineering Management, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, People's Republic of China)
Alan H.S. Chan (Department of Manufacturing Engineering and Engineering Management, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, People's Republic of China)

Industrial Management & Data Systems

ISSN: 0263-5577

Article publication date: 27 September 2011




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the understanding of industrial safety signs and messages by registered and non‐registered safety officers in Hong Kong with ten different user factors, and examine the relationship between cognitive sign features and sign comprehensibility.


The research methodology includes the survey development and appropriate statistical analyses. In total, 92 Hong Kong Chinese participated voluntarily in the study. A questionnaire survey was used to collect information about demographics, personal experience on safety and health issues, experience of reviewing safety sign information, comprehension scores, and the ratings of sign features for 30 industrial safety signs used in Hong Kong. The effect of ten user factors on sign understanding for the design of highly usable safety signs was examined.


Of the ten factors tested, only the factor of possession of registered safety officer (RSO) status was a significant predictor of comprehension performance. As expected, comprehension scores varied with the cognitive sign features of familiarity, concreteness, simplicity, and meaningfulness.

Research limitations/implications

The currently used industrial safety signs should be redesigned as soon as possible, with careful consideration of cognitive sign features. To make the results more generally applicable, further research is needed to collect more data, particularly from females.

Practical implications

This research suggests that an effective education program for promoting the intended messages of industrial safety signs in various industries and work environments should be conducted as soon as possible. Safety officers, especially those who work in the construction industry need to play a more prominent role in ensuring workplace safety, and in transferring safety knowledge to the workers.

Social implications

There is a need to enhance RSOs' risk perception and to increase awareness of the importance of safety signs through training programs, so as to improve workplace safety and organizational safety culture. The redesigned safety signs need to be launched with a public education program.


The paper's findings emphasize the need to create awareness of the importance of industrial safety and promote understanding of safety sign meanings amongst people in their work environments. Useful information for the design and use of safety signs was generated.



Chan, K.L. and Chan, A.H.S. (2011), "Understanding industrial safety signs: implications for occupational safety management", Industrial Management & Data Systems, Vol. 111 No. 9, pp. 1481-1510.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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